Many, many years ago, I did a favour for a neighbour and in return he gave me a bottle of red wine. Some time later he was chatting about this boutique vineyard he’d visited and oh, he said, did you like that wine?
At this point my then-boyfriend leaned in apologetically & whispered, “Well, we don’t actually drink.”
“You don’t drink?” hooted my neighbour, “But how do you cope?!”
Life being what it is (ie. curious), shortly thereafter we began drinking. (I guess you could say our unspoken answer to our neighbour’s question must’ve been ‘ok, yeah, good point’.) We even went to an adult ed. course on ‘wine appreciation’. We drank, went to tastings, asked advice, & learned phrases like ‘nosing’ & ‘wet dog’ & ‘undernotes’. We learned how to spot if a wine had ‘legs’, & we even learned to appreciate the sensation of pickling on the inside of your mouth, up against your teeth, that indicates ‘strong tannins’ & therefore age-potential.
What I like most about my (strictly amateur & still very much under-developed) appreciation of wine is being able to use more than just my sense of sight. Sight, I use everyday, for everything. I read, I write, I design web sites, I watch TV, I walk down the street. But to spend time *smelling* deeply & *tasting* fully … well, it’s just a treat. It’s a way to be in the moment, to focus on the ‘now’. It’s even a form of meditation, if you follow that whole ‘mindfulness’ school of thought.
And if I sound defensive here, it’s because I am. A little. Wine appreciation has a reputation for pretension. But I think the truth is it’s just the opposite. I think it’s earthy and real. I think it’s a way to focus inwards on your body’s sensations and to feed those sensations through your brain and turn them into words. It’s sensual. Kinda — dare I say — sexy.
So it was I approached Sideways with interest. Sideways features wine enthusiast & unpublished novelist* Miles (played by Paul Giamatti — & if you’re thinking this is a character I could relate to then let me just say oh, yeah) and all-round doofus playboy & occasional actor Jack (Thomas Haden Church). By sheer coincidence, I happened to be a fan of both these guys before I’d even heard of this film.
But I was worried, too. You know how sometimes you’re looking forward to something, & you’ve been looking forward to it for so long (waiting for it to arrive in your country, for example) that you figure you can’t be anything but disappointed? Yeah. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I hate disappointment. I tried to steel myself.
I didn’t have to, because I loved Sideways. I loved its richness & depth, I loved Paul Giamatti’s face, his rolling eyes & deadpan expression & the one moment where he actually _laughs_. I loved Church’s good-humoured goofiness & his weird walk (he walks kinda jerkily, right? I’m not imagining it, am I?) & his undaunted references to sex. I loved that the female characters were interesting & well-rounded & likeable without being at all sappy or shrewish or otherwise cliché.
And I loved Miles’ monologue on pinot grapes, & Jack’s consistent positiveness about everything he tasted (“I like it” — said cheerfully & without defensiveness). I loved the friendship of the two men — Giamatti’s begrudging acceptance, Church’s cheerful lack of realism. Light & dark. I loved *moments* in this film. Like the moment the two of them career down a hill, the moment Giamatti pulls away from the touch of a woman, the moment … ah, you sorta have to see them.
There were also some dark times. Miles is battling depression — sometimes quite dramatically — & both of them seem to have rather … er, shall we say … ‘individual’ moral codes. They are flawed. You could even say corrupted. Yet they’re also redemptively loyal. To each other, at least. Light, I say again, and dark.
I walked out of the cinema wondering if I’d already seen my favourite movie of ’05.
The next day, I had a hard time coming up with a reason for liking it so much. The movie stuck in my head almost because it refused to stick in my head.
Unlike most of my favourite movies — & even some movies I’ve disliked — I had nothing to say about it (apart from ‘yeah, it’s good, go see it’). Where were its themes, I wondered. Where were the ideas & lessons I normally take away with me? It seemed to have such *life* in it, and yet it left me with nothing to talk about.
The only idea I could place initially was that to fall in love requires hope. And that hope is sometimes stupid. (See? Light & dark.)
Perhaps the reason I have nothing much to say is because the movie itself says it all. Though that doesn’t feel quite right either.
So, I guess if I am trying to add something to the phrase ‘yeah, it’s good, go see it’, I would have to say that I sorta think of Sideways as a grown-up film. It’s not all childish optimism, it’s not all teen angst. It’s about being older than that, and about making do, & about acceptance — knowing when to accept & when not to. Knowing when to roll with the punches, knowing when to stop rolling & get back up. Or maybe it’s not about knowing, it’s about doing anyway, carrying on in the face of personal doubt. Maybe it’s about the journey. And knowing that there isn’t a ‘right’ way or time or reaction. There’s just life. And you. And what you do with it.**
* Some sites refer to Miles as a ‘failed writer’, but I don’t see him as failed at all. Unsold, yes, but not failed. Though Miles (as writer) & Jack (as actor) have decidedly not prospered professionally, they have not — quite — given up.
** And now I find I actually had quite a bit to say.